Isaiah 21

The Word Made Fresh

1An oracle about the wasteland by the sea:

Like a whirlwind sweeping through the south,
an invader will come from the wasteland, a land of terror.
2I have been given a troubling vision;
the traitor betrays and the violent destroys.
  Go up, Elam. Attack, Media.
I will put an end to all the suffering they have caused.
3That is why my stomach is in anguish.
I suffer like a woman entering labor.
I am doubled over and cannot hear.
     I am in distress and cannot see.
4My brain reels at the horrors that confront me.
The evening I had longed for now has me trembling.
5They set the table, roll out the rugs, eat, and drink.
Up, commanders! Oil your shields!                  
6The LORD has said to me, “Go and post a lookout,
  tell him to report what he sees coming.
7If he sees chariots and horses
and warriors riding donkeys and camels
tell him to be on the lookout, awake and alert.”
8Then the guard called out,
“I stand on the watchtower all day
  and stay at my post all night.
9Look! Here they come – riders on horseback, riding in pairs!”
Then he called out, “Babylon is fallen,
and all the idols dedicated to her gods
lie on the ground in pieces!”
10O my crushed people lying on the threshing floor,
this is what I have heard from the LORD Almighty,
  and I announce it to you.

11The oracle about Dumah:
  I hear one calling to me from Seir,
“Watchman, what is happening in the night?
  Tell me what is happening in the night.”
12And the watchman replies, “Morning is coming, and then night.
If you want to know what is happening come back again and ask.”

13This is the oracle about the Arabian desert:
   You will camp in the desert plain,
  you caravans of Dedanites.
14Give water to those who thirst and bread to the fugitive,
you who live in the land of Tema.
15They retreated from the swords that were drawn,
and from the bent bow, and from the heat of battle.

16For the LORD said this to me: “Within a year, measured by the years of a hired hand, all the glory of Kedar will end. 17There will only be a few bows remaining in the hands of the warriors of Kedar, for I the LORD God of Israel, have spoken.”


1-10: This first section concerns Babylon, although that is not revealed until verse 9 in a cry that reappears in Revelation 18:2. The poetry here is quite confusing, and scholars differ widely in their explanations. Elam and Media were empires to the east of Babylon, so the prophecy seems to indicate a coming incursion from that part of the world. Verses 3 and 4 imply that the prophet is mourning the destruction of Babylon, but scholars cannot understand why that should be. Perhaps those two verses are meant to be a representation of the feelings of the residents of Babylon suffering the invasion. Verses 5-10 describe the action taking place as Babylon is attacked.

11-12: The problem here is that Dumah was located in Arabia some 200-250 miles from Judah, but Seir was in Edom, directly across from the Dead Sea at the southern end of the Jordan River. Between 740 and 700 B.C. Dumah was allied with Babylon in some attacks against Assyria. Then, in 690-689 B.C. the Assyrians under Sennacherib destroyed Dumah. These two verses are enigmatic to say the least, but a possible way of understanding the conversation between the inquirer in Seir and the sentinel (presumably in Dumah) is like this: “One is calling to me from Seir, ‘Sentinel, what is happening in the night? What is happening in the night?’ The sentinel says, ‘Morning came (the Hebrew is in the past tense), and the night also. If you’re interested in what is happening, come and inquire again tonight.’” The conversation implies a presumption that an attack is about to take place.

13-17: The Dedanites, an Arabian Desert tribe, have fled to “the scrub of the desert plain” to escape the sword. The Temanites, another desert tribe, are begged to bring water and bread for them. Yet a third desert tribe, Kedar, is also prophesied to be under the sword.


Although it is difficult to understand exactly what is happening in these verses, it is clear that God is at work to bring about something God desires. That statement can apply to our lives as well. We may go through a time when we just can’t figure out how or why some negative situation has claimed us; but we can trust that life is a gift from God and God can and will find a way to bring us through all the trials of life.